As we move towards a post-pandemic era, church leaders are trying to identify what will be the new norms for their congregations.
With everyone at home this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations turned to online platforms to stay connected, and churches were no exception. Even the churches with no online ministry sought to find ways to maintain a community within the church. Some did so through worship and prayer with their congregations online.
In a recent study called the State of Digital Church, Barna researchers studied the willingness of American adults to participate in online church services.
Barna asked participants basic questions to determine things such as the number of adults actually attending online church, the number of digital church attendees willing to invite friends to log onto church and what kinds of things enhance or take away from, the online worship experience.
The research group, in collaboration with Alpha, published the complete survey, findings and conclusion in a journal called Five Questions Every Church Leader Should Ask About Digital Prayer. Despite various obstacles to engaging in online church, the research team discovered, in large, that those, who do prayerfully participate in the digital experience, describe “meaningful and shared experiences and encounters with God”.
According to the research, a consistent prayer life fosters honest interest in online prayer groups. Over 68 percent of Christians say they are currently engaging in online worship and prayer services; this number doubles the number of non-Christians who convey interest.
Data in Barna’s report indicates there is still an opportunity out there for church leaders to enhance, or in some cases, launch their online church services. The researchers have demonstrated how participation in digital church can be strengthened by recognizing and encouraging specific age groups: millennials, Gen Z, Gen X, non-white Christians and active Christians and church attendees with high digital openness. By identifying their actual attendees, church leaders can start online church services with a virtual group that actively participates in times of prayer and worship, while encouraging others to join.
Overall, researchers find that attending corporate worship is still more popular than attending online services. However, some churchgoers will participate more openly in an online group. Findings identify attendees that are more likely to engage and foster an online prayer community already participate in and prioritize church communities. No doubt, these seasoned and eager attendees can be the keys to bringing new people into the online community.
But some people are more open to, and present in, online group prayer. Data show these may be churchgoers who already attend or prioritize the kinds of church environments that are likely to be cultivating a digital prayer culture. These adaptable attendees could also be helpful in welcoming fellow congregants who find digital church options unavailable or unexciting.
As churches continue to enhance and cultivate both their online and in-person services, their eager, faithful attendees can reveal the path toward a stronger and more engaged church community, overall.